Every plant and flower fanatic should add these must-see gardens to his or her bucket list. Make a garden the destination, or tack one or more onto the end of an already-planned trip. Whether they are nestled in a lush forest or set smack-dab in the middle of a metropolis, these grandiose gardens are worth the detour.
Missouri Botanical Garden – St. Louis, Missouri
This 79-acre garden is a National Historic Landmark and one of the oldest botanical gardens in the U.S. The expansive grounds include a 14-acre Japanese garden that features a myriad of distinctly Japanese cultural influences, from an architectural bridge to plantings such as lotuses, cherry blossoms, azaleas and chrysanthemums. The grounds also include 23 residential-scale demonstration gardens; Garden founder Henry Shaw’s 1849 country home, Tower Grove House; and one of the world’s largest collections of rare and endangered orchids.
Longwood Gardens – Kennett Square, Pennsylvania
Greater Philadelphia is known as America’s Garden Capital. One of more than 30 public gardens in the area, Longwood boasts more than a million visitors each year and has more than 1,000 acres of gardens, woodlands and meadows. You’ll find special outdoor displays year-round, or you can venture into the country’s largest conservatory, with 4.5 acres of indoor gardens.
Perhaps the most famous part of the gardens is the Main Fountain Garden, featuring magnificent European-inspired Italian limestone fountains that shoot jets of water as high as 130 feet into the air.
Denver Botanic Gardens – Denver, Colorado
The Denver Botanical Gardens’ mission is to connect people with the plants of the Rocky Mountain region and similar regions around the world. The gardens are spread among three locations, but the main site is just 10 minutes east of downtown.
In addition to housing flora, the grounds also have indoor and outdoor art exhibits, with landscape paintings, sculptures and photos. The renowned Rock Alpine Garden—one of about 45 individual gardens—has more than 500 tons of rock and 2,300 species of plants.
Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden – Richmond, Virginia
A healthy dose of Southern charm is injected throughout all 50 acres at Lewis Ginter. The Conservatory, crowned by a 63-foot-tall dome, is often called the “jewel of the garden.” Inside, you can find exotic plants from around the world, including orchids, as well as seasonal themed displays. The Central Garden unites the grounds and features a variety of garden “rooms,” such as the Healing and Fountain gardens.
Another highlight of Lewis Ginter is its interactive children’s area, complete with a giant, accessible tree house.
Desert Botanical Garden – Phoenix, Arizona
Founded in 1930 by a group of volunteers who wanted to preserve the local flora, the Desert Botanical Garden is still run by more than 1,000 volunteers today. The 140-acre garden focuses solely on desert plants, and you can find 50,000 plants showcased in beautiful outdoor exhibits that dispel any expectations of a colorless desert landscape. The collection of cacti is unique, and several loop trails wander through a vast variety of arid-adapted plants from the Sonoran Desert. A popular time to visit is spring, when the garden hosts its annual butterfly exhibit and wildflowers begin to bloom.
New York Botanical Garden – New York, New York
This 250-acre picturesque paradise, open year-round, is in the heart of the Bronx and features an astonishing 50 gardens and more than a million living plants.
Fifty acres of old-growth forest still lie at the heart of the garden, the largest remnant of the original forest that covered all of New York City until the 17th century. If you’re looking for a colorful show, be sure to visit in April or early May, when 25,000 tulips bloom.